Modern movie posters tend to follow a fairly banal formula: cram every last bit of information about the film, its plot and the identity of its stars into the available space and hope for the best.
Even the colour schemes are hackneyed: red and white for rom-coms, or cool blue juxtaposed with explosive orange for action blockbusters. So where are the design descendants of classic movie poster artists such as Saul Bass or Bob Peak?
As with most things, the answer can be found online. Recently, there has been a spate of minor viral sensations featuring alternative posters for classic movies – all of them in a retro, almost minimalist style. The blogger Spacesick, for instance, made faux 1960s book covers for films from Blade Runner to Teen Wolf (which you can see at goo.gl/1clj). Brandon Schaefer has a Flickr gallery full of retro takes on The Dark Knight, The Rocketeer and more ( goo.gl/TEiY).
And then there are the examples shown on these pages. Their internet popularity is easily explicable: film is one of the web's favourite subjects, and most of the posters are witty, one-line inside jokes – which people love to share. For the designers themselves, the posters are perfect portfolio-boosters. After seeing Olly Moss's brilliant black, white and red redesigns of posters for Die Hard and The Great Dictator (at ollymoss.com and flickr.com/photos/ollym). Penguin Books art director Jim Stoddart hired him to create book covers.
"What I admired was his conceptual thinking," says Stoddart. "He can take a complex idea and visualise it simply. His posters reminded me of 1960s Penguin covers by designers like Derek Birdsall, who could sum up complicated non-fiction concepts in one simple visual joke. In the design world, excessive flim-flam is rarely in fashion. One of the most desirable disciplines in design is to pare things down to their essence. With film art, we've become used to seeing every scene, every character, every aspect of the film in a single poster – that goes back to Gone with the Wind or Star Wars. But these alternative posters look charming in a way that commercial posters can't. And part of their charm is their integrity; they demonstrate real knowledge of the films."
Exergian, a professional designer from Austria, says that he'd planned for some time to begin a personal project that wouldn't force him to conform to a client's brief. He loved television, and had never seen anyone creating posters for his favourite shows. "I started in December by designing a poster for 'Dexter'. When I had 10 posters I put them on my website and they just took off. I'd started a Tumblr blog in November with six followers. Now I have 2,500! The images were only meant to be for my website, but people from around the world emailed me to ask for copies, so I had them made into prints.
"I only designed posters for shows that I knew and loved. The icon I used for each poster had to be something that you'd only recognise if you'd actually seen the show. It's like an inside joke. I've done 50 and that's enough for now – but if I find another great TV show then I may release another series."
Toronto-based Coburn was commissioned by BAFTA to produce posters based on this year's Best Film nominees. "Most of my work has a vintage feel," he explains. "I gravitate towards strong, simple images. The only idea BAFTA rejected was my original 'Precious' poster, which was a crushed prom queen tiara. They felt it should be more human."
The eventual BAFTA winner was, of course, 'The Hurt Locker'. "I loved the bomb-disposal suit that the hero wears," says Coburn of his interpretation. "I wanted to make it look claustrophobic in there: hot, sweaty and incredibly dangerous."
Tassone is a 22-year-old design major at Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. As part of a project for his course, he put together a series of minimalist posters for films based on Stephen King's novels. "Modern movie posters mainly consist of shots from the movie with some boring text slapped on top," he says. "I wanted to take some complex movies and make the posters as minimal as I could. The posters that Saul Bass produced in the 60s and 70s were so striking, and I really wanted to emulate that by using just one object per poster.
"The whole project took me about a week. The culture blog at 'New York Magazine' picked it up, and then Edgar Wright [director of 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz'] tweeted about it. It was pretty strange to see a director I've respected for a while say that he wants a poster I designed. I've had the 'Carrie' poster screen-printed to sell online. I'd love to print them all, but I can't afford it at the moment!"
Youssef studied fine art in Cairo, then advertising in Toronto before returning to his first love, design. Just after Christmas, he released a set of posters on his website, based on the films of Quentin Tarantino. "I think of them as a reward to fans who appreciate Tarantino's movies," he says. "Film trailers give away far too much, and I wanted to produce an antidote – to give away the whole movie, but in a very coy way. I did it for fun, thinking they'd look cool on my wall.
"At the time my Flickr page was getting something pathetic like three hits per day. I woke up the next day with 2,000, and the day after that it was 32,000. In January I had about 500,000 hits on my website. I had an email three weeks ago from the international director of advertising for Universal-NBC. I thought, 'Oh please don't sue me!' But he asked to use my 'Inglourious Basterds' poster as part of the film's worldwide marketing campaign. I even sent a package to Quentin himself." Youssef is now working on a set of alternative posters for Wes Anderson's films.
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